Whether you’re mid-cardio workout or get caught in a surprise rainstorm, broken earbuds are a big inconvenience. Ideally your earbuds won’t be exposed to the elements, but year-round athletes and those who live in unpredictable climates know that you can’t always control these things. In that case, it’s best to invest in a pair of earbuds, headphones, or even speakers that can endure a light splash or fumble into the dirt. IP ratings are an easy way to identify the durability of your next device, and will give you some peace of mind when using it under sub-optimal conditions.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on May 26, 2021, to include technical information and answer an FAQ about speakers and IP ratings.
What is an IP rating?
An Ingress Protection (IP) rating denotes how resistant a device is to dust and water. Now, if you’re like I was prior to researching water resistance, you might not know what ingress means either. That’s A-Okay. Ingress is just the act of going in or entering.
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What does the X mean, in say an IPX4 rating?
The X serves as a placeholder for the degree of dust or water resistance in a given IP rating. Not all devices receive a rating that covers both variables, hence why many headphones and earbuds receive an IPX4 rating. In this case, the X means that the headset in question didn’t receive a dust-resistant rating, so best not to use it at the beach or when rock climbing. The 4 following the X is the liquid ingress protection rating.
Water-resistant Waterproof Can withstand
IPX0 Not water-resistant
IPX1 ✓ Dripping water (1 mm/min)
Limit: vertical drips only
IPX2 ✓ Dripping water (3 mm/min)
Limit: Device max tilt of 15° from drips
IPX3 ✓ Sprays
Limit: Device max tilt of 60° from sprays
IPX4 ✓ Splashes, omnidirectional
IPX5 ✓ Water jets (12.5 L/min)
Example: Squirt guns
IPX6 ✓ Strong water jets (100 L/min)
Example: Powerful water guns
IPX7 ✓ Complete submersion
Limit: 1 m. for 30 min
IPX8 ✓ Complete submersion
Limit: 3 m. for 30 min
As we said, IP ratings are broken down into two categories: dust and water resistance. The former ranges from zero to six, while the latter goes up to 8. As you might expect, the lower the number, the less it’s able to combat the respective hazards.
Dust-resistant Dustproof Can withstand...
IP0X Not dust-resistant
IP1X ✓ A solid object > 50 mm
IP2X ✓ A solid object > 12.5 mm
IP3X ✓ A solid object > 2.5 mm
IP4X ✓ A solid object > 1 mm
I5X ✓ Dust-protected, small solid objects won't interfere with device operation
IP6X ✓ Any amount of dust, completely dust-tight
Case Study 1: The Bose Sport Earbuds
The Bose Sport Earbuds merit an IPX4 certification. Bose designed the earphones to be protected against splashes from any direction. The Bose Sport Earbuds, and any water-resistant headset with an IPX4 rating or higher, can handle even the sweatiest of us and be no worse for the wear. As a matter of fact, they’ll likely survive a clumsy spill from a water bottle too. That said, don’t go around thinking these are invincible. Full immersion will render them useless.
Case Study 2: The Jabra Elite Active 75t
Jabra engineered the Jabra Elite Active 75t with durability in mind above all else. These earphones received one of the highest IP ratings at IP57, making them dust and water-resistant. If you’re a gymnast in training, beach runner, or rock climber, we recommend the Elite Active 75t. A dust-resistance rating of five indicates that these are protected from traces of dust, which can still permeate the headphones but it won’t interfere with their ability to function. Regarding waterproofing, a rating of seven allows for complete immersion at one meter for up to 30 minutes.
Why you should care about IP ratings
You may not think your lifestyle warrants any kind of device-proofing, but accidents happen. Even the hydrophobic need to drink, leaving potential spills to chance. Nowadays, additional protection doesn’t necessitate additional cost. While the examples above are of top-tier earbuds, there are plenty of true wireless earbuds under $100 and even under $50 with some degree of water resistance.
Poor spending habits aside, headphones that are rewarded with IP ratings will likely remain on your head longer than those lacking certification. If a pair of headphones receives an IP rating, you can rest easy knowing that a drop of water, spring deluge, or an unexpected poolside shove won’t short-circuit the internals. And as a backup, many warranties cover water-resistance failures. Worst-case scenario you jump through some bureaucratic hoops to justify a repair. Still, not too bad.
Frequently Asked Questions
Any electronic can receive an IP rating from earbuds to headphones, and even smartphones! We have a list of the best waterproof speakers, all of which have some kind of IP rating. While headphones with official IP ratings are rare, there exist a handful of excellent workout headphones. Heck, even the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, a premium pair of noise cancelling headphones, has an IPX4 rating.
Our sister site Android Authority has a thorough writeup on the MIL-STD-810G rating, but the sum is this: the MIL-STD-810G is a US military specification that indicates a devices has undergone a battery of 29 durability tests, ranging from extreme temperatures, shock, vibration, humidity, and more. You're more likely to see this rating with certain smartphones, but headsets like the V-MODA Crossfade 2 Wireless Codex Edition warrants this specification.